All-conquering Capriati primed for Wimbledon

French Open: Rejuvenated American revels in electric atmosphere after outlasting Clijsters in epic three-setter for second Grand Slam title of year
Click to follow

The next instalment of the Redemption of Jennifer is due to unfold at Wimbledon in two weeks' time. The reborn Capriati will then attempt to win the third leg of a Grand Slam, 10 years after becoming the youngest ever singles semi-finalist at the All England Club Championships (15 years and 95 days) by defeating the great Martina Navratilova.

That was before the harsh reality of life as a prodigy dawned on the sunny youngster from Florida, who had already advanced to the semi-finals of the French Open here in Paris at the age of 14. Darker years as a teenager followed, barely relieved by an Olympic Games gold medal in Barcelona in 1992.

Today, having added the French title to her triumph at the Australian Open in January, and with Wimbledon and the United States Open still to be played, the 25-year-old Capriati is able to smile. She is content to leave it to the media to speculate about her prospects of becoming only the fourth female ever to complete a sweep of the four major championships in a calendar year after Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988).

A full set? Capriati's mind is probably still in a whirl about the third set of Saturday's final in which she inched to victory against the 18-year-old Belgian Kim Clijsters: 12-10 after 77 minutes. Few sets have been fuller. Twenty two games in the final set of a Grand Slam singles final, men's or women's, is a new record in the open era (since 1968), and the most in the last set of a women's final at the French.

And few sets can have contrasted more sharply with the poor quality of the two that had gone before, 1-6, 6-4, in which Capriati, nervy and irritable, did well to hold herself together against an opponent whose boldness belied the fact that she was competing in her first Grand Slam final.

In the epic third set, Clijsters lost her serve in the opening game, broke back immediately, and the pair became locked in a mighty battle for supremacy, exchanging blockbuster drives and risking the odd touch of finesse at their peril.

Clijsters came within two points of victory four times, twice with Capriati serving at 5-6 and twice more with the American serving at 7-8.

Capriati served to stay in the match four times, and served for the match three times, narrowly missing her first match point with a cross-court backhand at 11-10, 40-15, and converting the second with a forehand drive after two hours and 21 minutes.

"It's heartbreaking, of course," the 12th-seeded Clijsters said, "but I gave everything I had, so I can't blame myself that I lost. I showed that I can play good tennis throughout two weeks." Her impressive campaign here has elevated her to No 7 in the world.

Much was made of the fact that the match contained 155 unforced errors (79 by Capriati, 76 by Clijsters), the majority in the first two sets. Both players agreed that the statistics underlined that the women are more inclined to go for their shots nowadays.

"A lot of the new young players try to hit winners on every ball," Clijsters said. "We try to stay aggressive. We can make some unbelievable shots, but maybe some easier mistakes." "They're [regarded as] unforced errors," Capriati said, "but they're still forced because you're trying to force the shot. Most of the time it's like that. Of course, you're going to have the stupid errors ­ 'there wasn't any reason to miss that shot', whatever ­ but I think it's better to take the chance."

Capriati, describing her joy in victory, said: "It was like a surreal feeling ­ just to be standing there with all the people clapping for me, just being happy, feeling genuine happiness from the people, and looking over at my family. It was just an amazing feeling." She added: "Nothing went through my mind about the past at all. It's like here and now, and that's it." Appropriately, the trophy was presented to Capriati by Chris Evert, the last American to win the title, in 1986, her seventh victory making her the all-time heroine of the clay courts of Paris. Evert has known the Capriati family since her father, Jimmy, coached Jennifer as a child on the tennis courts of Florida.

"I was so happy for Jennifer," Evert said. "It was a very emotional moment. She was able to guts it out and show her fighting spirit, even though she wasn't playing her best tennis." She added: "It's hard not to think she will have immense pressure to capture the next leg of the Grand Slam at Wimbledon, the tournament considered the most prestigious in the game.

"I'm assuming that the field will be stronger at Wimbledon, since by the second round here it was somewhat diluted. We had Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles injured and unable to play here, and Venus Williams go out in her first match, which I'm sure changed how things developed here.

"But for the moment Jennifer should be allowed to enjoy the amazing success she's already had this year and not have to think about Wimbledon at all."

French Open Results (seedings in brackets):

Men, Singles, Championship

(1) Gustavo Kuerten (Bra) def. (13) Alex Corretja (Spa) 6–7 (3), 7–5, 6–2, 6–0.


Women, Singles, Championship

(4) Jennifer Capriati (USA) def. (12) Kim Clijsters (Bel) 1–6, 6–4, 12–10.


Men, Doubles, Championship

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes (Ind) def. (13) Petr Pala and Pavel Vizner (Cze) 7–6(5), 6–3.


Women, Doubles, Championship

(2) Virginia Ruano–Pascual (Spa) and Paola Suarez (Arg) def. (16) Jelena Dokic (Yug) and Conchita Martinez (Spa) 6–2, 6–1.


Mixed, Doubles, Championship

Virginia Ruano–Pascual and Tomas Carbonell (Spa) def. Paola Suarez (Arg) and Jaime Oncins (Bra) 7–5, 6–3.